Last Sunday night saw the debut of ITVs brand new spy thriller series The Ipcress File. Based on the book of the same name by Leigh Deighton, the series stars Peaky Blinders actor Joe Cole alongside Lucy Boynton and Tom Hollander, and focuses on a British spy who is assigned a mission known as The Ipcress File.


The 1962 novel was previously adapted to screen in 1965, with the release of the film version starring Michael Caine. The original has become a classic of British cinema, and was heralded as being “the anti James Bond” for its more realistic and down to Earth take on Cold War era spying. This new version then has a fair amount to live up to, though it pulls more inspiration from the book than it does from the more famous film version.

Joe Cole follows in Michael Caine’s footsteps as Harry Palmer, a trench-coat and glasses wearing British corporal, who is recruiting into the world of espionage in order to avoid prison. Palmer, whose “deliberately boring” name originated with the 1965 film (he was nameless in the book) is working class, irritated by red tape bureaucracy, and lives in a bedsit grinding his own coffee. Much like the original, the new ITV series moves away from the glamorous Bond spy style to a more grounded, but still fun one. When he’s recruited as an agent, he meets Jean (Boynton), an immaculately dressed spy who pretends to her family that she works for the BBC.

Palmer is working class, irritated by red tape bureaucracy, and lives in a bedsit grinding his own coffee...

Things begin to get dangerous and deadly as Palmer is assigned to the Ipcress File mission, and uncovers a plot involving nuclear bombs, torture and mind control, using his contacts in Berlin to find a missing nuclear scientist. The series is six episodes in total, with each episode being an hour long. While the story is a spy classic, current events in the world and nuclear threats make the series feel even more urgent and timely than they otherwise would be.

The series’ official synopsis is “to avoid prison, Harry Palmer will become a spy. And the case on which he cuts his teeth will be The Ipcress File. Harry’s links to the man suspected of kidnapping a missing British nuclear scientist result in him being conscripted for a dangerous undercover mission that takes him from the Beatles’ London to the Berlin Wall, from the back alleys of Beirut to the white-hot sand of a Nuclear Atoll in the Pacific. The Ipcress File is a stylish and tense tale of abducted scientists, brainwashing, inter-departmental rivalry, treason, and a possibly unwise romance.”

So far, one episode of The Ipcress File has aired, with the next one arriving on Sunday. Joe Cole has received acclaim for his turn as Harry Palmer, and the show itself is high in production values and large in scope. So, if you’re looking for a thrilling series that takes place in the height of the Cold War, look no further than this new ITV drama.


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